Mike Johnston

WHL hammers Winterhawks for undisclosed “player benefit violations”

3 Comments

The Portland Winterhawks are being punished for what the Western Hockey League calls a “series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons.”

The league announced today that the Winterhawks will be barred from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft and will forfeit their first-round picks in the following four drafts.

GM/head coach Mike Johnston has also been suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, plus the playoffs.

In addition, the organization has been fined $200,000.

“Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL,” said league commissioner Ron Robison in a statement.

“It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated.”

No specifics of the violations were disclosed in the announcement; however, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the league’s investigation did not uncover any “irregularities” with regards to the club’s recruitment and acquisition of top prospect Seth Jones.

The sanctions come in the wake of a dramatic turnaround for the Winterhawks. When Johnston took over early in 2008-09, he inherited a team that had won just 47 games in the previous three seasons. Fast forward to the present and the team is coming off back-to-back appearances in the WHL finals.

Recent first-round NHL picks out of Portland:

2010: Ryan Johansen, 4th overall by Columbus
2010: Nino Niederreiter, 5th overall by NY Islanders
2011: Sven Baertschi, 13th overall by Calgary
2011: Joe Morrow, 23rd overall by Pittsburgh
2012: Derrick Pouliot, 8th overall by Pittsburgh

Update (4:25 p.m. ET):

The club has released a statement outlining the violations that it’s been found to have committed.

—- A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program
—- Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland
—- Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen
—- The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

Not surprisingly, the club feels the punishment is overly harsh.

“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” Johnston said in the release.

“We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”

Image of Mike Johnston via winterhawks.com

One loss from elimination, the Caps say they’re ‘not afraid’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on during the third period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy…

After going into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all…

After all the talk that this could finally be the year…

All of a sudden, the Washington Capitals must win three straight games to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.

One more loss and it’s over until next year.

One more loss and it’s heartbreak, again, in D.C.

Well, well, well, it didn’t take long for the first column about Alex Ovechkin’s legacy to come out. Everyone knows the narrative: lose to Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Great 8 will suffer yet another painful, humiliating loss.

How much responsibility does Ovechkin bear? Why do his teams never win? Is it something about him?

You know those questions are coming. It doesn’t matter if they’re fair. Who says the questions have to be fair? One more loss and they’re coming. One more loss and the finger-pointing starts.

Because it was supposed to be different this time. Not only did the Caps have the world’s greatest goal-scorer, they had depth down the middle, depth on the back end, and the Vezina Trophy favorite in net. They could score. They could defend. They even brought in Mr. Game 7 himself.

On paper, they had it all.

And now?

Three straight wins to stave off elimination. That’s what they need now.

“This group is not afraid of where we’re at,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday. “We know where we’re at. We’re realists. But at the same time, we know that we won a lot of games this year, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

Trotz is right, it didn’t happen by accident. The Caps are a very good team. They proved it during the regular season.

The problem is, so are the Penguins.

And the Penguins are proving it now.

Related: Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives’

Will Sutter take ‘punches in the gut’ and return to coach Kings?

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter listens to a question during a news conference after Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Kings in the second overtime period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals, Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Chicago. The Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup finals. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP
Leave a comment

Darryl Sutter has an offer on the table to return as the Kings’ head coach, and GM Dean Lombardi isn’t concerned about him walking away.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing in Los Angeles.

In Friday’s conference call, Lombardi acknowledged the Kings are in a bit of a tough spot, and need to reevaluate things after missing the playoffs two years ago and getting bounced in five games this season.

“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money,” Lombardi said, per Yahoo. “I think it’s ‘are we ready to do this’ because it’s going to be a lot of work. And just like building it in the past, you stick with some tough times.

“We’re not going back to there, but to get this back on track there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

Sutter, 57, has been with L.A. for the last five seasons and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, winning two Stanley Cups. His direct, no-nonsense approach is admired (even if his players locked him out of the dressing room once) and he’s incredibly tight with Lombardi, dating back from their time together in San Jose.

Sutter — from Viking, Alberta, population 1,041 — also enjoys life in L.A. He says living in Manhattan Beach is “awesome” and “basically a small town.”

But for all the good stuff, the last two years have been tumultuous off the ice — Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge, Jarret Stoll‘s drug arrest, Mike Richards‘ contract termination — and underwhelming on it.

The Kings’ defensive depth has been whittled away, and was exposed in this year’s postseason loss to the Sharks. Veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik — who combine for nearly $11 million in cap space — have struggled, and both are on the wrong side of 30.

The club wants to retain power forward Milan Lucic, and are working towards a contract extension. But with a tight cap situation, it wasn’t surprising to hear Lombardi explain he doesn’t see a deal getting done anytime soon.

Lombardi later admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.”

As for Sutter, he’s yet to speak publicly to reporters about his plans for next year.

Jagr mum on World Cup participation

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) reacts after a play during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP
1 Comment

Though he wasn’t named to the initial 16-man roster, Jaromir Jagr has an open invitation to join the Czech Republic team for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Now he needs to decide if he’ll take it.

Jagr was non-committal about his participation during a Friday conference call to discuss his new one-year contract with the Panthers. He declined to answer questions, explaining that he needed to speak with Czech GM Martin Rucinsky before reaching any conclusions.

“I think we’re going to make a decision after that,” Jagr said, per NHL.com. “We have a lot of time to go.”

Rucinsky is on record saying Jagr has a spot on the team, if he wants it. That comes as no surprise — Jagr’s a living legend and one of the most productive Czech NHLers this year, leading the Panthers in scoring with 66 points.

The issue, though, is how much stress the 44-year-old wants to put on his body.

Jagr played a ton this year — 79 games — and it showed in the postseason, when a compacted opening-round schedule against the Islanders (they played six games in 10 nights) seemed to hamper him.

Jagr finished the series with no goals and just two assists.

The World Cup runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, and the Czechs will play a minimum of three round-robin preliminary games. They also have three pre-tournament exhibition games.

Rucinsky needs to submit his final roster by June 1.

 

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

4 Comments

The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not.